After years of on again, off again reunions, lineup changes and general public disinterest, the original lineup of seminal 80’s electronic artists Orchestral Maneouvres In The Dark reformed in 2006, and since have released two albums, 2010’s History of Modern, and this year’s English Electric.
Formed in 1978, the group (singer/bassist Andrew McCluskey,keyboardist Paul Humphries, drummer Malcom Holmes , and synth player Martin Cooper) had already received worldwide recognition by the time the track “If You Leave” hit in 1986. That song, which was featured prominently in the John Hughes classic Pretty in Pink, introduced the rest of the world to a band that many critics already considered to be one of the best in the world. However,, as is so often the case, critical accolades and a single hit don’t always translate into larger success. As a result, for many listeners, the band was relegated to the status of one hit wünderkins. But you wouldn’t have guessed that by their performance Saturday night at the 9:30 Club though.
In a performance that schooled each and every person who forgot about them and rewarded those that had kept the faith the past 25 years, OMD managed to mix a whole lot of the old, with a whole lot of the new to deliver one timeless jewel of a show. Opener Diamond Rings, known for his impeccably reverent take on 80’s synth pop, didn’t just warm up the crowd, he served as an acolyte to the high priests of the synth/electronic gospel that would follow him to the stage. It was history in reverse as John O’Regan jubilantly assaulted the crowd with synth bleats and crashes from electronic drums, and by end of the evening his performance bear out to be not just exhilarating, but a living appendix in the larger history of electronic music, a history that in no small part was authored by his tour mates.
And OMD made sure that they read from almost every page of that book. Opening with the thumping “Please Remain Seated”/”Metroland” off of English Electric, the quartet wasted no time establishing that not only was their sound still relevant in 2013, it was driving much of the musical culture. Much like the machines responsible for the retrofitted sound, Andrew McCluskey’s voice hasn’t aged a bit, and as they stormed back through their past, pulling tracks “Tesla Girls” and “Locomotion” from 1984’s Junk Culture, and even further aback for “Souvenir”, “Sister Mary Says” (before which McCluskey “absolved” the crowd of their sins) and a set closing “Enola Gay” (all from 1981’s Architecture And Morality) it became clear to even the most casual attendee the influence that that these four gents had, and still have. Everything from Hot Chip, to Howard Jones, to NIN, to insert synth pop band of the week here seems to have referenced the music of Orchestral Maneouvres In The Dark. More to the point, their timeless tracks not only moved the audience to dance, but fulfilled McCluskey’s mission statement that we all “dance intellectually of course.”
And yes, they played the song. How could they not. But it wasn’t at the end of the set or even for a teary eyed make out sesh of an encore (pre show there was an honest to god marriage proposal on stage, so really, ANYTHING goes after that). Instead, ”If You Leave” was tucked between The Pacific Age’s “(Forever) Live and Die” and newer track “Night Café”, like some spit shined afterthought, in a sea of slightly more weathered blips and bleeps. It came. It went. And the crowd, many of whom came for the song, simply continued dancing to every note, eager to sit through this master class in synth pop disguised as a concert.
All photos by Julia Lofstrand (firstname.lastname@example.org / www.julialofstrandphotography.com)